Chromosome 2 fusion!

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Chromosome 2 fusion!

If science teachers have to remind students that evolution is "just" a theory, they should also have to teach students about this.


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... On a related note, it's

... On a related note, it's frustrating that the term "theory" is so widely misunderstood ... as if a theory is the same as a hypothesis, or worse, synonomous with "wild guess" ... I wish people, in their day to day, would stop using theory in this wrong, but very common way, and maybe look up the definition:

"a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena ... the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another"


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Every time I see the words

Every time I see the words "just a theory" it makes my blood boil and I'm compelled to rant.

So here's the rant.

The word theory, in the context of science, does not imply uncertainty, Stephen Gould has a wonderful essay on exactly this point. But before you hit Google, simply realize that the word theory in the scientific sense means "a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena" (Barnhart 1948). In the case of the theory of evolution, the following are some of the phenomena involved. Some propositions of the theory of evolution are that life on earth is billions of years old, that life on earth slowly changes over time via a process we call natural selection and that all life on earth is related. These propositions are all demonstrable facts.So there is also the FACT of evolution: which is simply the FACT that life on earth changes over time. The theory of evolution explains this fact. From a genetic POV, all evolution is is the change in allelic frequencies within populations over time. That’s IT. Period.

The theory of evolution has proven itself in practice and in practical applications. For example, in the epidemiology, dealing with evolving and antibiotic resistant bacteria, pest control, and pharmacuetacle development. Without common ancestry and evolutionary theory, there is no reason drug development studies between different species should be valid – it makes no biological sense except in light of the theory of evolution and specifically the concept of common descent.

Now has the theory of evolution been proven with absolute certainty? NO, nothing in science is ever “proved” with absolute certainty, not gravity, not atomic theory, nothing. Has the TOE been validated and confirmed at every turn to the point where we are as certain of it as we are of the theory of gravity - absolutely, yes. The discovery of endogenous retrogenes shared amoung related species, the fundamental biochemical unity of all life on earth, the geologic column and the fact that fossils appear in a predictable order in it, the observance of atavism like coccyx retroposition (true human tails), and even observed speciation - and thousands more discoveries which are often predicted in advance by TOE (the measure of a good theory), all confirm the TOE.

The problem here is ignorance of the meanings of the terms theory, law and hypothesis.

A hypothesis is an educated guess based, which is usually based on observation. A hypothesis explains a single event or phenomenon based upon what is observed, but has yet to be supported or refuted by experimentation or continued observation.

A scientific law is a statement of fact that concisely explains a phenomena or set of actions. It is generally accepted to be true and univseral, and is usually expressed in terms of a single mathematical equation, like the fist law of thermodynamics and Hook’s law of elasticity. Scientific laws are like mathematical postulates. They don’t need any complex external proofs; they are accepted at face value based upon the fact that they have always been observed to be true.

A theory is more like a scientific law than a hypothesis. A theory is an explanation of a set of related observations or phenomena based upon proven hypotheses which have been verified multiple times by multiple, and independent groups of researchers. One scientist cannot create a theory; he can only create a hypothesis. In general, both a scientific theory and a scientific law are accepted to be true by the scientific community as a whole. Both are used to make predictions of events. Both are used to advance technology. The biggest difference between a law and a theory is that a theory is much more complex and dynamic. A law governs a single action, whereas a theory explains a whole series of related phenomena.

There is no hierarchy between a theory and law, both are generally accepted to be true by scientists, both are used to make predictions, both are used to advance technology - a law is not better than a theory or vice versa, and a theory does not progress into a law (though parts of the theory may).

An old chemistry prof of mine made the analogy between a bow and arrow and a machine gun. A law is like a B+A, it has one moving part, does one thing simply and efficiently. A theory is like a machine gun: dynmaic, moving, more complex, made of many parts working together. You can improve the gun by changing or improving certain components, without changing the overall concept and mechanics of the gun - just like you can do with components of a theory. A law or a B+A is much less open for tinkering, because it is much more basic and less dynamic.

{edited for readability} 

I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world. - Richard Dawkins

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